The councilmember then owed their allegiance, essentially, and loyalty to the city manager for life and basically left the city manager alone to increase a lot of these internal programs, which don't give services directly to the people but build the city manager's control and empire. And the city manager probably made deals like that all the time with council. So that's why the danger [exists] of this essentially strong-manager form of government; it's called council-manager, but [it's actually] strong-manager form of government. The manager has total control of all the information, all the numbers, and gives the council only what he wants. During budget time, I get calls from council offices all the time saying, "Do you have information on this? I can't get it." And partly because of charter restrictions and partly because the staff says, "These people are short-timers. They'll be gone. They don't understand the budget. They're ignorant. All they care about is getting their new playground equipment. And we bureaucrats understand the real picture, and so we gotta make sure they don't understand this." So the system right now, I believe, is geared toward wasting money.
The people at city hall say not to worry, that taxes on tourists staying in hotels here are going to bail out all of the new projects and expenses.
Hotel-tax revenues have been tremendous. They've been fabulous, but they've been descending downwards for several reasons. Our occupancy is really high in the city. It's great. And our rates were all raised during the Super Bowl. And the rates never came down. So our average hotel rates are even higher than L.A. and our occupancy is already like at 80 percent. So it's not gonna go up. If anything, it's gonna level out and potentially go down; although, there will be some new product brought on-line.
That doesn't mean the hotel industry is gonna be doing bad. It's still gonna do extremely well, but it won't be growing at the same rate, potentially not at the double-digit rate. And as you know, the pro forma for the ballpark, which includes the library...counts on at least an 8 percent growth rate of the TOT for 30 years straight.
This year [the hotel tax-growth rate] was down to about 10 -- and it's trending down, and the hotel folks say the next couple of years they expect the amount of revenues to not grow as high. And at some point maybe even flattened out just about the time ballpark bonds could come on.
That's why it's worrisome, and then on top of that, the council is doing nothing to reduce costs, absolutely nothing. They are not looking at privatization or outsourcing in any way, like the county is.
Why is that?
Last November, the council met in closed session. And the issue was should they meet with the labor unions just to discuss the potential of putting a charter amendment on the ballot, so there would be no doubt that they could do the same type of contracting out that the county does. The city attorney believes they can, but just to avoid the problem, put a charter amendment on the ballot. The council in closed session voted 8-to-0 to not even open discussions with the fire union and police unions and others about it. The mayor was out of town at the time. So they don't even want to think about real outsourcing -- privatization -- at the city [level]. They spend several hundred thousand dollars on their so-called competition staff, a year. Several million dollars the last few years. And we've not seen any real monetary savings, real dollars.
So you think the next city council is going to inherit some rough problems from the folks who are being termed out?
Yeah, I mean, they will run out of one-time resources. And they will have increased debt obligations and increased ongoing expenditure obligations. And then lines have already crossed in that there isn't enough revenues ongoing to cover it. You know, they're at a point where they're gonna start burning the furniture, basically. And you can only do what we do in our own lives -- refinance our debt with lower-interest credit cards -- for so long until the lines start crossing. And the city is using a lot of creative ways to avoid facing making a tough decision. That's really what it's been. And, as I say, part of it's been the structural problem. And part of it's been, I think, the personalities of the council, and they don't have the threat. No one's demanding it. And staff is "enabling" them, as the pop term is these days.
Any other examples of local screw-ups?
Look at the airport issue. Here you had [new port director Dennis Bouey] brought in from Philadelphia, and he gave the best approach to doing the airport issue I've ever seen. He said, we're gonna do with Lindbergh for the next 15 years but we're gonna decide a new site in the next 18 months. He had a plan; problem is, he flunked Politics 101. He didn't talk to his board first. The mayor goes down, says, "No. I'm the leader in the airport issue." And [state senator] Steve Peace goes down and says, "I am the leader." And SANDAG says, "I am the leader." And none of those above have done anything on the issue at all except duck it. And here's a guy whose knees were cut off or worse by his own board. The bumper sticker used to say, "Welcome to San Diego; Now go home." Well, I think they kind of gave Bouey one of those and that's unfortunate.
Secrecy seems to be a big theme when talking about what goes on at city hall.
Financial service and auditors, off the record, and others will agree to all this. But nobody wants to talk about it in public. And even the city manager, who in all good stead a couple years ago, when he first came here, produced a budget, which showed the one-time revenues. Showed the land sales. Showed all those things. And by the time the final budget was approved, they were all, like, expunged -- those charts and graphs -- from his final budget because they had been directed by the mayor's office that they did not want to talk about those things in the budget so they were all just expunged.